A cocktail doesn't have to involve a dozen ingredients and cost a fortune. Some of the classics require only a base alcohol, a dash of fruit juice and some ice. Don't be afraid to substitute and modify drink recipes to fit whatever you have on hand.
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Start With Your Favorite Spirit
Cocktails are built around a base spirit. It is usually the most expensive component of the drink, so start with what you already have on hand, if possible. If you're planning a party, stick to one base spirit. You can make a wide variety of cocktails from any of them, and it gives gatherings a sense of coherency (and saves you some cash).
Add a Complementary Flavor
Flavorings shouldn't overpower or mask the flavor of the spirits. Instead, look for flavors that highlight or complement the characteristics of your favorite alcohol.
- Fruit juices work well with spirits like tequila, vodka and white rum. Citrus pairs well with spiced rum.
- Muddled herbs, such as sage and anise, highlight the flavor notes in gin or absinthe.
- A dash of bitters adds a subtle flavor boost to most drinks. Keep a bottle of Angostura or Peychaud's bitters on hand to spice up your cocktails.
Sweeten -- But Not Too Much
One-half to 1 part of sweetener to 1 part spirits smooths out the drink. If you add fruit juice as a flavoring, the sweet component is already present so there's no need to add extra sugar. Use these common cocktail sweeteners:
- Simple syrup -- a 1:1 ratio of sugar dissolved in water
- Agave syrup
Mixed Drink Recipes
Want a cocktail without the experimentation? Opt for these time-tested classics:
Add 1 ounce of orange juice to a champagne flute. Top with sparkling wine and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters.
Fill a glass with ice. Juice half a lime, or measure 1 tablespoon of lime juice into the glass. Add 2 ounces of vodka and 4 to 6 ounces of ginger beer.
Pour your favorite cola over ice. Stir in 2 ounces of spiced rum and a squeeze of lime juice.
Fill a short tumbler with ice. Add 2 parts vodka, 1 part coffee liqueur and 1 part cream. Stir well.
Fill a shaker with ice. Add 1 1/2 ounces of white rum, 1/2 ounce of simple syrup and 1 ounce of lime juice. Shake, then strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice.